best friend hunted by their greatest enemy"
Two confused and abused lab dogs - Snitter and
Rowf - escape from a research
facility in the Lake District. When word of their
escape finally leaks out the
authorities embark upon a large-scale pursuit.
They suspect the canine pals to
be carrying anthrax. The dogs, meanwhile,
forge a friendship with a canny fox
called the Tod, but the humans' pursuit is relentless.
Freedom is tantalisingly
close, but always just out of reach. The outcome
is never in doubt, inevitable
and as bleak as the landscape in which the
chase is conducted...
Richard Adams' stark tale is translated into
film by the team who brought
Down. As before, naturalism is the key word here, with
every effort taken to make the animals, people
and locations look and
behave as real as possible. The film took
two years to animate, with production
duties shared between teams in Los Angeles
and London. In the original novel,
the dogs share almost equal stoytime with the pursuing
White Coats. For the
film version, the production team cleverly focus
on Snitter and Rowf with the
humans relegated to an extraneous threat, always
peripheral to the action.
Indeed, we barely even glimpse a full face in the course
of the film.
The $5m movie features the same water-washed and
muted palette as
Nepenthe's "Watership Down", but
here the story and tone is necessarily bleaker
with precious little relief from the gloom. The
film's producer, Michael Rosen,
wanted audiences to get inside the heads of
his two abused lead characters.
And he and his crew succeed admirably. However,
the additional grimness and
generally downbeat tone went on to hamstring "The
Plague Dogs" commercial clout.
"Watership Down" at least had the antics
of the Germanic gull Kehaar and the
"Bright Eyes" theme to lift its
oppressive air for a while. Not so here. In the end
"The Plague Dogs" was deemed to be simply
too adult for children, whilst older
moviegoers dismissed its arrival before discovering its
mature themes and content.
Indeed, even the film's original American
distributors struggled to get their heads
around the piece. After much discussion about its
marketing and talk about
re-dubbing the voices Rosen took the film back
and distributed it himself
through Nepenthe Productions.
The problems with the film's commerciality
actually continued to resurface on
later video releases. Indeed a key American
video edition features numerous
edits excising some of the harder language
and much of the threatening,
or violent behaviour in a crude effort to
make the film more "child-friendly" -
completely at odds with the film's ideals. Animal
testing is a nasty business
which simply can not, and in the fim maker's
eyes, should not be watered
down for safe consumer consumption.
"The Plague Dogs" was way ahead
of its time, both stylistically and thematically.
On the visual side, today's audiences are
far more excepting of oblique or
alternative animation design and construction.
And the film's main themes have
even grater resonance today given the recent
outbreaks of disease in the British
countryside, anthrax scares and the high profile
campaigning against animal
testing and genetic experimentation. Here
is a brave and moving film which
refuses to hide behind any form of frivolity or
bright eyed genre stereotype.
It demands your full attention, and rewards
those who are patient enough
with an absorbing, intelligent and provocative
story questioning man's
inhumanity to his animal 'friends'. See it
Dogs on DVD
2 / Universal / September 2002
1 (edited version) / Trinity Home Ent / August 2004
anim dir: Tony
Guy, Colin White
from the novel by Richard Adams
and Tide" by Alan Price
prod des: Gordon
John Hurt (Snitter)
Christopher Benjamin (Rowf)
Bolam (The Tod)
Mitchell (Tyson / Wag)
Hawthorne (Dr. Robert Boycott)
Leigh-Hunt (Farmer's Wife)
Hepton (Stephen Powell)
Stirner (Lab. Asst.)
Judy Geeson (Pekinese)
Lee (Lynn Driver)
Locke (1st Civil Servant)
Spink (2nd Civil Servant)
Church (3rd Civil Servant)
Anthony Valentine (4th Civil Servant - voice only)
Lucas (5th Civil Servant - voice only)
Edwards (animal vocalisations)